Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out.V. Fourth Collection of Proverbs. Chaps. 25–29
1. The Title. See Introd., ch. iii. p. 24.
This Title is interesting as affording a proof that a revival of literary activity accompanied the revival of religion and of national prosperity which marked the reign of Hezekiah. Hezekiah himself was a poet of no mean order (Isaiah 38:9 ff.); and “the men of Hezekiah” were doubtless a body of scribes engaged under the direction of the king in literary labours. But beside this, this brief title is one of those “fragments of history,” which, as Professor Sayce has shown, “have been illuminated by the progress of oriental research,” and “the importance and true significance of which can now be realised for the first time.” This Title points, he thinks, to the existence of a royal library in Jerusalem, into which these proverbs, never before edited, were now gathered and “copied out,” and similar to the libraries which are now known to have existed in the cities of Babylonia and Assyria. “The vassalage of Judah to the king of Assyria in the reign of Ahaz had necessarily led to the introduction of Assyrian culture into Jerusalem. Ahaz himself had led the way. In the court of the palace he had erected a sundial, a copy of the gnomons which had been used for centuries in the civilised kingdoms of the Euphrates and the Tigris. But the erection of the sundial was not the only sign of Assyrian influence. The most striking feature of Assyrian and Babylonian culture was the libraries, where scribes were kept constantly employed, not only in writing and compiling new books, but in copying and re-editing older ones. The ‘men of Hezekiah’ who ‘copied out’ the proverbs of Solomon performed duties exactly similar to the royal scribes in Nineveh.” (The Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments, pp. 475, 476, 4th edition.)
copied out] ἐξεγράψαντο, LXX.; transtulerunt, Vulg.
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.2. conceal … search out] “To God it brings glory and admiration, that in governing the universe He follows out His own, and that a secret, counsel. To kings it is a source of glory to search out by their sagacity the difficult questions which belong to their office as kings, especially to the administration of justice in doubtful cases, so as diligently to enquire into the matters which are brought before them.”—Rosenm.
The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable.3. Besides his glory in contrast, the king has a glory in resemblance to Almighty God, whose vicegerent he is. He too has something to conceal.
Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer.4. a vessel for the finer] Such pure metal as the refiner, who has with that very object taken away the dross, can make into a goodly vessel or vase. Egredietur vas purissimum, Vulg.
Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness.
Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men:6. Put not forth thyself] Better, Put not thyself forward, R.V.; Heb., Glorify not thyself; μὴ ἀλαζονεύου, LXX.; ne gloriosus appareas, Vulg.
For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.7. Come up hither] Comp. Luke 14:8-10, and Introd. p. 33.
whom thine eyes have seen] This aggravates the disgrace: you have pressed presumptuously into the inner circle, so as to stand face to face with the prince, and there “in his presence” shalt thou be humiliated.
Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.8. thou know not] These words are also inserted in R.V. text, with the alternative in the margin, Lest it be said in the end thereof, What wilt thou do? when &c. The Heb. as it stands is forcible in its abruptness: Lest—what wilt thou do in the end thereof? &c.
8–10. The admonition in these verses is general: Be not of a contentious spirit; plunge not hastily into quarrels (comp. the use of the same word “strive,” Genesis 26:20; Exodus 21:18; Deuteronomy 33:8). But there is a special and perhaps primary reference to going to law (obs. thy cause, Proverbs 25:9, the same Heb. word as in Exodus 23:2-3). The passage will then nearly resemble our Lord’s teaching: so far from “going forth hastily to strive,” “agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him”; show a placable disposition, and instead of seeking the publicity of the law-court, “debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself.” And do this from a consideration of what litigation persisted in may involve: lest thou know not what to do,” &c.; “lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge,” &c. Matthew 5:25-26.
Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another:9. a secret to] Rather, the secret of, A.V. marg. and R.V.
The warning would seem to be against being betrayed by a litigious spirit into dishonourable conduct, and incurring the indelible shame of betraying confidence through eagerness to win your suit.
Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away.10. put thee to shame] Or, revile thee, R.V.; ὀνειδίσῃ, LXX.; insultet, Vulg.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.11. fitly] Lit. upon its wheels, i.e. smoothly and without hesitation.
Others render, at its (proper) times, i.e. seasonably, perhaps from the idea of times or seasons “revolving,” or “rolling round.” In tempore suo, Vulg. Comp. Proverbs 15:23.
apples of gold] Either golden-coloured fruit, such as oranges or quinces (χρυσόμηλα, Plin.; aurea mala, Virg. Ecl. iii. 71), or fruit gilded or made of gold, as part of the artistic ornament.
pictures] Rather, baskets of silver network or filigree work, through and in contrast with which the golden fruit was shown to advantage. In lectis argenteis, Vulg. The LXX. has ἐν ὁρμίσκῳ σάρδιου, in a necklace of sardius, evidently regarding the whole ornament, including its apples, or bosses, of gold as the work of the artificer.
The imagery of the proverb accords with the growth of art and luxury in the reign of Solomon, though the Hebrews were familiar from the days of Egypt (Exodus 3:22), and earlier (Genesis 24:22), with ornaments of gold and silver.
“The proverb may well be thought of as having had its origin in some kingly gift to the son of David, the work of Tyrian artists, like Hiram and his fellows. Others, as they gazed on the precious metals and the cunning work, far beyond the skill of their own countrymen, might highly admire, but the wise king saw in the costly rarity a parable of something higher. A word well set upon the wheels of speech excelled it. It is singular that ornamentation of this kind in the precious metals was known even as late as the middle ages, as œuvre de Salomon.” Dean Plumptre, Speaker’s Comm.
As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.12. earring] Or, nose-ring, R.V. marg. See Proverbs 11:22, note.
As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters.13. the cold of snow] Rosenmuller, quoted and approved by Maurer, explains this, not of snow falling in harvest, which would be rather an emblem of disaster (Proverbs 26:1), but of snow mixed with wine or other beverage to cool it. He refers to Xenophon (Mem. ii. 1. 30), and Pliny (H. N. 19. 4) in proof that this method of cooling was practised by the ancients. It is possible that such luxury may have been enjoyed by Solomon in his summer palace of Lebanon; but the cold of snow may simply be instanced as the greatest conceivable refreshment in the sultry harvest-field.
In Proverbs 10:26 we have a companion proverb by way of contrast.
Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain.14. Lit.,
Clouds and wind and no rain;
A man who boasts himself of a gift of falsehood.
The rising wind and gathering clouds (1 Kings 18:45) which, un-accompanied by rain, disappoint the expectation of the thirsty earth are an apt emblem of a man who promises much and performs nothing.
The Vulg. is true to the original, and forcible:
Nubes et ventus et pluviae non sequentes,
Vir gloriosus et promissa non complens.
By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.15. We have an illustration of this proverb in the effect of the “long forbearing” of David during his persecution by Saul, and of his “soft tongue” at Engedi (1 Samuel 24), and in the wilderness of Ziph (Ib. Proverbs 26:7 ff.): “And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice and wept: “Return, my son David; for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day.”
Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.
Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee.17. Withdraw thy foot] So Vulg., subtrahe pedem tuum. Lit. make rare thy foot. The R.V. adopts the marginal reading of A.V., Let thy foot be seldom in. σπάνιον εἴσαγε σὸν πόδα πρὸς σεαυτοῦ φίλον, LXX.
A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.18. a maul] “i.e. a hammer, a variation of mall, from malleus … The Hebrew and English alike occur in Proverbs 25:18 only. But a derivative from the same root, and differing only slightly in form, is found in Jeremiah 51:20, and is there translated by ‘battle-axe’ (or maul, R.V. marg.)—how incorrectly is shown by the constant repetition of the verb derived from the same root in the next three verses, and there uniformly rendered ‘break in pieces’ … There is no doubt that some heavy warlike instrument, a mace or club, is alluded to; probably such as that which is said to have suggested the name of Charles Martel.… A similar word is found once again in the original of Ezekiel 9:2 = ‘weapon of smashing’ (A.V. and R.V. text, ‘slaughter-weapon).’ The sequel shows how terrible was the destruction such weapons could effect.”—Smith’s Dict. of Bible, Art. Maul. See note in this Series on Jeremiah 51:20.
It is difficult to see why in this and the following verse (though not in Proverbs 25:14, or Proverbs 25:26,) R.V. should have followed A.V. in inverting the order of the two clauses in the Hebrew.
Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.
As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.20. taketh away] Better, taketh off.
nitre] The Heb. word nether, occurs only here and in Jeremiah 2:22, where see note in this Series. The substance meant is not saltpetre, which is now what we understand by nitre, but native carbonate of soda, which was found, as Pliny tells us, in the Soda Lakes of Egypt (Smith’s Dict. of Bible, Art. nitre). The untimeliness of singing songs to a heavy heart is illustrated by the first comparison. It is doing exactly the opposite of that which the circumstances demand. It is like taking off a garment just when one ought to put it on. The second comparison teaches vividly that the action which is thus untimely is also irritating when it ought to be soothing, and hurtful when it ought to be helpful. It is like “vinegar on nitre,” like acid on soda, which produces effervescence, calling into active exercise the natural antipathies of the substances, and destroying the virtue of the soda.
If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.22. heap coals of fire upon his head] i.e. take the most effectual vengeance upon him. It is best to take the expression both here, and in the Epistle to the Romans, where it is quoted, in the simplest sense of taking vengeance, expressed by a familiar figure (Psalm 120:4; Psalm 140:10), without carrying out the figure into any idea of the effect upon your enemy, whether for good or for evil, of your conduct: q.d. your natural desire is to be avenged, let this ‘feeding him’ and ‘giving him drink’ be the effective form of vengeance which you adopt. And as an incentive remember that in doing him good you will bring a blessing upon yourself: “the Lord shall reward thee.” The proverb thus belongs by anticipation to the highest sphere of moral teaching, Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:20.
The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.23. driveth away] Rather, bringeth forth, A.V. marg., R.V. text. The rendering of A.V. text follows the Vulg., dissipat pluvias, and is apparently supported by Job 37:22 : “Fair weather,” or “golden brightness, cometh out of the north,” a phenomenon which is there attributed to the action of the wind blowing from that quarter (see Proverbs 25:21 and note in this Series). But by “north” may perhaps here be meant “north-west.” (“Intelligendus ille ventus qui inter aquilonem et occasum flat, Thrascias sive Caurus, qui a Seneca in Hippol. 25:1130 imbrifer dicitur,” Rosenm.) The comparison thus becomes clear and forcible: The north wind bringeth forth rain. The secret action of the wind covers the heaven with clouds, so doth (adopting R.V. in preference to A.V.) a backbiting tongue an angry countenance; its secret malignity is sure to be discovered and to clothe the countenance of its victim with dark anger.
It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house.24. See Proverbs 21:9, and note.
As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.25. As cold waters, &c.] Comp.
“quale per æstum
Dulcis aquæ saliente sitim restinguere rivo.”
Virg. Ecl. 25:46, 47.
good news, &c.] Comp. Proverbs 15:30, and for illustration, “The heart of Jacob their father revived,” when he heard the good news from a far country, “Joseph is yet alive.” Genesis 45:25; Genesis 45:27. This proverb again admits of the highest reference.
A righteous man falling down before the wicked is as a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring.26. falling down] Better, with R.V., that giveth way, or (marg.) is moved. To see a righteous man moved from his stedfastness through fear or favour in the presence of the wicked is as disheartening, as to find the stream turbid and defiled, at which you were longing to quench your thirst.
Lord Bacon, quoted by Lange, gives the proverb a judicial application: “This proverb teaches that an unjust and scandalous judgement in any conspicuous and weighty cause is above all things to be avoided in the State.” And again, “One foul sentence doeth more hurt than many foul examples; for these do but corrupt the stream, the other corrupteth the fountain.”
troubled] Lit. trampled, i.e. fouled by the feet. Comp. Ezekiel 34:18, where the same Heb. word is used of water, with the addition of “with your feet.”
corrupt] Better, corrupted, R.V.
It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory.27. is not glory] The words is not are not in the Heb., but are supplied both in A.V. and R.V. text. The R.V. marg. has, “But for men to search out their own glory is glory. The Hebrew text is obscure.”
It would seem as though the author of the proverb threw down in the second clause the terms of the comparison and left us to adjust them: “so is it with searching out your own glory, and glory”; q.d. Glory, like honey, is a good thing, but to be too much engrossed with your own share of the one is like eating too much of the other.
He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.28. In this verse again, both A.V. and R.V. change without apparent reason the order of the clauses in the Hebrew.